Strategy & personal development

Cost of living crisis – what can be done?

The Covid-19 pandemic and the campaigning of celebrities such as Marcus Rashford, MBE, drew wider attention to the scale of issues surrounding food insecurity but the issue existed long before then. There has for many years been an increasing need for services such as food banks, in fact over the last decade there has been an exponential growth in food bank usage.

The pandemic undoubtedly had an impact, the trend was escalating rapidly pre-pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis is most certainly that – a crisis, just how bad will things get?

The need for food banks has increased by 123% in the last five years and this certainly looks set to continue rising.

Statistics from The Trussel Trust

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic UNICEF, (United Nations Childrens Fund) who are responsible for humanitarian aid around the world had to step in to support UK children. This is the first time in UNICEF’s history that they have supported the UK.  One could argue that with the UK being the 6th richest economy in the world that UNICEF shouldn’t have needed to step in, but hungry children do not care for politics and the need was, and indeed still is very real.

According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics) there are 12.7 million children in the UK. Over a third of these, children, (an estimated 4.3 million) are living in poverty. Many children rely on school to get a hot lunch, but out of the 8.9 million children attending schools, just over 20% are eligible for free school meals. Rather unsurprisingly, there was an exponential increase in the number of children becoming eligible for free school meals during the pandemic with an additional 128,000 children. However, children were not in school due to lockdowns and there was, of course a lot of negative media attention on the response to feeding those eligible children during this time of need.

Whilst it is desperately sad and frustrating for us to think of people, particularly children going hungry there are much wider health, wealth and social implications at stake.

Within the UK today we have very real poverty and this brings with it health inequalities. Income is associated with health, whereas those in the bottom 40% of income distribution are twice as likely to report poor health than their counterparts in the top 20% of income distribution. Poverty (in particular persistent poverty) is associated with the very worst health outcomes and we have seen the statistics above of how many children are living in poverty in the UK today.

Health is about much more than the individuals’ personal health it is a reflection on society and indeed on the country itself.

“Put simply, if health has stopped improving it is a sign that society has stopped improving. Evidence from around the world shows that health is a good measure of social and economic progress. When a society is flourishing health tends to flourish. When a society has large social and economic inequalities there are large inequalities in health. The health of the population is not just a matter of how well the health service is funded and functions, important as that is: health is closely linked to the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age and inequities in power, money and resources – the social determinants of health.”

Source – The Marmot Review 10 years on – Health Equality in England

When we consider children living in poverty and the associated health issues, we are also potentially forecasting their future health outcomes.

“We could see the first generation of children to be expected to have shorter life spans than their parents if current trends on obesity, nutrition and lifestyle continue”

Source – The Lancet Volume 371 Issue 9607

Whilst it may sound strange to reference obesity in the same context as food poverty it is entirely possible and sadly, common. The types of foods available cheaply (or indeed those donated) are not always supporting optimal health due to being ultra-processed, high in sugar, salt and fats and low in nutrients. It is also common to see obesity and malnutrition within the same populations.

How can we help?

Sometimes the problem can feel so big and so removed from our day-to-day lives that it can feel impossible, but there are ways in which we can help. The need exists for food banks, we can argue that there shouldn’t be a need but that won’t help those who are hungry. Nobody wants to live in food poverty, this isn’t a choice. Food poverty can take away independent food choices and a reliance on what has been pre-packed for you. We can help to ensure that those packages are nutritious and do contain items we would want to eat ourselves, and perhaps most importantly contain items that can easily be transformed into family meals.

Food parcels

We know what nutritionally balanced food should look like; bright, colourful, fresh but, unfortunately most food banks are only able to deal with ambient donations and deliveries meaning that goods must be in tins or packets. How do we ensure that we are donating nutritious foods this way?

Let’s take a look at tinned goods – tinned goods can be very healthy we just need to be careful how and what we pick: –

Tinned vegetables

Tinned veg is just as nutritious as fresh as it’s packed soon after picking. Most tinned veg will only contain water but in terms of additives, look for water & ascorbic acid in the ingredients rather than a long list of additives.

Tinned fruits & sugary items

Tinned fruit is a great source of nutrients but choose in fruit juice not syrup to avoid too much sugar. It’s also worth mentioning that providing sugary foods is not necessarily a ‘treat’. People requiring food parcels need appropriate nutrition not just calories. Biscuits, sweets, chocolates, etc., do not provide any nutrition to support health. This is not to say that people cannot eat them but they should not replace nutritious calories in the form of real foods.

There has been research into food donations and the amount of sugar which they contain. One shocking report showed this energy breakdown from the food parcels analysed in the Oxfordshire area: –

62.2% of energy was provided as carbohydrate and 569% of the DRV (Daily Reference Value) was provided by sugar.

Food bank parcels distributed in Oxfordshire, UK, exceeded energy requirements and provided disproportionately high sugar and carbohydrate and inadequate vitamin A and vitamin D compared to the UK guidelines.

Source – BDA (British Dietetic Association) Feb 2020

With more than 14 million people living in poverty including 4.5 million children, it’s apparent that more needs to be done to prevent the escalating health and wealth divide. No one wants to need a food bank and no one should have to but where there is a need, it is of paramount importance that those in need of food parcels receive adequate nutrition as malnutrition is very real and can be very serious. Ensuring that donations are healthy and well thought out can really support an individual or family’s health and well-being. 

Louise Mercieca
Latest posts by Louise Mercieca (see all)
The Business Bulletin

Don't miss out...

Enter your email address to ensure you receive the next edition of The Business Bulletin as it is published.

Louise Mercieca

Louise is an award-winning Nutritional Therapist, award-winning author and presenter on her own Food Channel for Early Years Nutrition. Whilst she is passionate about formative nutrition, she mainly works with adults on preventative nutrition. How can we use food instead of eventually needing medicine!? There are lots of confusing, contradictory and often, misplaced advice in the world of nutrition. Louise aims to make the message clear - food and health are intrinsically linked!

Cost of living crisis – what can be done?

by Louise Mercieca Time to read: 4 min